OPC lays groundwork for a Canadian right to be forgotten in recent RateMDs privacy decision

On June 30, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) released its Report of Findings on the information handling practices of the operator of RateMDs.com, a popular review website that allows users to rate health professionals for the benefit of other patients (RateMDs). The decision arose from a complaint filed by a dentist from British Columbia in which she sought to have her profile permanently removed from RateMDs’ platform, alleging that RateMDs had failed to obtain her consent in violation of the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

The OPC concluded that RateMDs was not required to obtain the complainant’s consent before collecting, using or disclosing her personal information, including her name, business contact information, as well as reviews and ratings. However, it found that RateMDs had failed to be sufficiently transparent regarding health professionals’ right to request to have their personal information corrected or amended if inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date. In addition, the OPC also found that RateMDs had engaged in an unreasonable practice, in contravention of section 5(3) of PIPEDA, by offering a subscription-based service that included a “pay-for-takedown” feature, which allowed health professionals to hide up to three negative comments from their profile.

While the decision provides valuable insights and guidance on the obligations and role of organizations in protecting individuals’ reputation online, the decision represents an important, albeit cautious, foray into a Canadian “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) – a discussion that closely aligns with the OPC’s previous statements in its Draft Position Paper on Online Reputation. In this respect, the present decision raises a number of issues for organizations seeking to implement the OPC’s recommendations and illustrates the challenges that lie ahead with respect to the recognition of a full-fledged RTBF in Canada. Considering a reference that may have significant implications for the recognition of a Canadian RTBF is still pending before the Federal Court, organizations should exercise caution in managing requests to remove user-generated content pursuant PIPEDA.

This content has been updated on May 2, 2024 at 13 h 36 min.